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Thomas Bluemling

“And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.” (Deuteronomy 11:13-14)

When it comes to loving God, there are certainly benefits!  This is because God is love, and it is the nature of love to give and give—not withholding anything good.  While this is a joyous truth, it is also one which we need to ensure that we understand rightly; for there are many who, by making unwarranted assumptions about God’s love, have been led away into all sorts of error and sin.

God loves us, and so desires to bless us with good things—right?  Certainly!  When we consider how God “gave his only begotten Son,” (John 3:16) we see this confirmed.  If God was willing to give us the greatest gift of all, then certainly, we are safe in saying that He is willing to bless us with the lesser gifts.  The Bible says, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)  What an amazing verse!  We can be certain then, that our Father desires to give us good things, and that He will not withhold anything good from us.  But this is where we have to be careful; for danger is near.

Let’s ask ourselves a question, “Is God willing to give us anything at all?”  Is He willing to give us the ability to fly about, or to walk through walls, or to read minds?  Some might go as far as to answer “Yes” to these questions.  Let’s go a bit further.  Is God willing to give us that which will serve to harm us?  When it comes to His children, we know that God will only ever give us that which will work for our ultimate good.  So then, we can be sure that God is not willing to give us anything without qualification.  If something would not work for our ultimate good, then He won't even give it to us.  When we ask God for things in prayer, we need to examine our motives, for God will not give His children that which they desire only out of selfish lust: “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 4:3)  God is not willing to give us that which would be harmful to us, for to give something to someone knowing it to be harmful would not be a blessing.

Some pastors and teachers, knowing that God desires to give good things, have concluded that God wants all of His people to be blessed with material wealth.  But this conclusion has gone too far, for it is to assume that earthly wealth is always good for us.  Earthly wealth is neither good nor evil in itself; it is simply neutral.  But, if earthly wealth is given to a covetous person, it will tend to further degeneration and destruction.  The Bible reveals that some people, desiring to be rich, have fallen into temptation and a snare, and have done themselves substantial harm (1 Timothy 6:9-10).  If God will not give us things to spend on our lusts, why would we suppose that He will give wealth to those who lust after it?  We must mark it down, God will not feed the lusts of His children.  We are not saying that God will not meet our financial needs.  Desiring provision for needs is quite different than lusting after excessive wealth.  The Bible teaches us to be content with having our basic needs of food and clothing met (1 Timothy 6:8).  If we desire to have more than what we need, we show that we are discontent.  The same principle carries over to needs for ministry.  Often, we suppose that we need more to serve God than we actually do.  Soon, our desire for something bigger and better subsumes our desire to have something more spiritually rich.  In this way, just as those who lust after wealth, we are led astray by inordinate desires.  What is the solution to all of these problems?  How can we be kept from the snares of covetousness?  First, we must understand that God wills to give His children that which is good, and good for them.  Consequently, assuming that God desires all people to obtain an abundance of material wealth is simply foolish.  Consider the prayer of a wise man in the proverbs: “Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” (Proverbs 30:8-9)

Suppose that a person is not covetous.  If we are cleansed from covetousness, does God desire to give us great earthly wealth?  If we desire to be free from covetous in order that God might be willing to make us rich, we will never be free from covetousness, for it is the love of money which fuels our desire not to love money—this is just layered self-deception.  There is nothing to do but put away all lusts for material wealth.  If God so chooses to bestow earthly wealth upon us, so be it; but even then, this wealth is not to be used for our own sake; and, if God chooses to simply meet 

our most basic needs, so be it.  The apostle Paul modeled this right attitude of contentment:

“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

The notion that God wants all of His people to obtain great material wealth is as unbiblical as it is void of wisdom.  Often, it assumes that we need more money to serve God more effectively, something which is shown to be false in Scripture.  Consider the ministries of Jesus and John the baptist.  These alone are proof positive that God doesn’t need to work through the channel of earthly wealth.  Certainly He may, and certainly He does, but to assume that He must is unwarranted and evidently false.  Furthermore, those who believe this often assume that more money is needed for one to reach fulfillment or happiness; and this is more ridiculous than the previous assumption.  To suppose that peace, joy, or fulfillment hinges on temporal and passing things like wealth is thoroughly unscriptural; for it is certain that peace, joy, and fulfillment are byproducts of the Spirit-filled life, and such a life in no way hinges on earthly wealth.

Pastors and teachers who promote the idea of God wanting His people to be wealthy are teachers of what is called the Prosperity Gospel.  Under this heading, many Bible verses are taken out of context, and twisted in order to support these false notions:

The Abundant Life

The Bible tells that Christ came so that “[we] might have life, and that [we] might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)  There are many who, upon seeing Jesus’ promise of abundant life, assume that such a life matches the world’s notions of an abundant life.  Consequently, when they hear this promise, pleasures of the world immediately come to mind, things like nice cars, more money, big houses, more vacations, and relaxation.  Is this what Jesus had in mind when He promised us this new abundant life?  In the following passage, Paul, who lived in this abundant life, reveals to us the pattern of it:

“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-11)

According to the apostle Paul, our experiencing and manifesting the life of Christ hinges on our bearing His dying in our bodies.  In other words, the only way to live the abundant life is to give ourselves to what the Bible calls “the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10).  It is to embrace the tribulation, distress, and persecution that comes to all who die to their flesh and live as true witnesses of the gospel.  As the Scripture says, “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12)  The abundant life is not a life of ease according to the desires of the carnal mind, but a life of walking with the Lord and identifying with Him in His sufferings.  The world’s concept of an abundant life is one of ease and pleasure, but the true abundant life is one of righteousness and joy in the Spirit, though such life is accompanied by trials.  It is a life of loving Christ more than our own lives.

Ask and You Shall Receive

The Bible says, “ye have not, because ye ask not.” (James 4:2)  This verse, as with John 14:14, is often used by prosperity preachers to imply that we can ask for anything we want according to the desires of the word such as houses, cars, money, etc.  They often ignore the next verse which says, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 4:3)  Much of what people are praying for is for their lusts to be fulfilled.  Remember, the Bible says, “they that will be [meaning desire to be] rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” (1 Timothy 6:9)

The Hundredfold Return

“And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, 30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

While these verses seem quite convincing at first glance, to take them at face value would force a contradiction.  Consider those who have lost a spouse in their service to God.  Taking these verses in the most literal sense, as prosperity teachers do, we would be forced to conclude that they would receive a hundred spouses in this life.  Also, if we took these verses literally, we might wonder why the apostles, who sacrificed so much for the furtherance of the gospel, didn’t receive such a magnificent return.  So far from receiving it, they were almost all martyred!  Certainly, these verses cannot be taken in the literal sense.  Therefore, we must look for a spiritual meaning.  Might we receive spiritual houses, brethren, lands, etc. in this life?  Indeed, all of these—houses, brethren, sisters, mothers, children, and lands, can come in a spiritual form (Acts 16:31, Matthew 12:49-50, 1 John 2:1).

The Blessing of Abraham

Some prosperity teachers place much emphasis on the blessing of Abraham.  They claim that because God made physical promises to Abraham, and because we are the children of Abraham by faith, we too are the intended recipients of physical prosperity.  To make this point, they often reference the book of Galatians: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:13-14)  Usually, prosperity teachers will quote all of this section except the very last part; the part which sheds light on the nature of the blessing.  While they use these verses to teach the prosperity gospel, the verses themselves expose their error. Verse fourteen explicitly describes the blessing of Abraham as “the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:14)  Thus, the context is not pointing to physical blessings, but spiritual ones!

Jesus Became Poor so We Could Be Rich

The next verse is taken from a chapter which does deal with money, but not in the way which prosperity teachers portray it: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) This verse appears within the context of a passage about financial giving; and constitutes an argument for the reasonability and suitability of selfless giving.  We will deal with the passage more when we come to it in our study, but it suffices to show how the surrounding context actually disproves the prosperity gospel.  When Paul explains why the wealthy should give of their surplus, he reveals a truth which is inconsistent with what the prosperity gospel teaches:

“For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

These verses clearly teach us that God does not give us a surplus for ourselves, but for others.  So then, all of the prosperity teachers, who spend enormous amounts of money on personal pleasures above their needs, are thus exposed.  They are taking the money which ought to be used for those with less, and buying for themselves luxurious houses and cars and so forth.  These are those “that count it pleasure to riot [to live in luxury and excess] in the day time;” (2 Peter 2:13) the same who are “cursed children.” (2 Peter 2:14)

The Desires of Your Heart

The Bible says, “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” (Psalms 37:4)  Does this mean that we can obtain whatever we want if we love God?  Yes, but there is a catch.  Consider the nature of the things we wanted before we were saved.  Were they not characterized by selfishness and sin?  The Bible says, “we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” (Ephesians 2:3)  Should we suppose that God will give us desires which are evil?  Certainly not!  Logically, the desires that God will grant cannot be desires of the flesh nature, for such a nature does not delight in the Lord.  Many Christians who quote this verse with carnal desires in mind, only show that they do not delight in the Lord; for, if they did delight in Him, they would have lost their taste for vain pleasures, and would have instead desired holiness and righteousness.  In a similar way, some prosperity teachers will quote from the sixth chapter of Matthew: “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)  But, in the context, “these things” refers to basic needs, not wants.

Prosper as Your Soul Prospers

Our next example is another which seems, at first glance, to support the notions of prosperity preachers: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” (3 John 2)  It does appear that John is desiring his reader’s physical prosperity to correspond to their spiritual prosperity.  Many have taken this verse to mean that, the more we grow spiritually, the more that we will be blessed physically.  Consequently, those who have the most wealth are often seen as the most spiritual people.  But to assume this interpretation is to force a contradiction.  The Bible explicitly teaches us that anyone who assumes the godliness is a means of gain is spiritually ignorant.  It describes the “Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness.” (1 Timothy 6:5)  The Bible clearly refutes the notion that physical blessing corresponds to spiritual maturity.  Consider the proverb, “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.” (Proverbs 13:7)  It is evident that prosperity teaches have imposed a meaning upon the second verse of Third John, a meaning which does not align with the whole of Scripture.  Rather than being a promise of wealth which corresponds to spiritual welfare, it is to be understood as a greeting.  John is simply stating his goodwill toward the brethren—not issuing a promise.

Give and It Shall be Given to You

A great deal of prosperity teaching revolves around the idea of sowing and reaping.  We have probably heard the phrase a thousand times, “You reap what you sow!”  But as with all of these verses, we need to understand sowing and reaping in context.  Prosperity teachers are spreading the notion that giving financially works like investing.  They tell Christians that, if they give to the church in faith, God will reward them with monetary or material blessings.  Is this biblical?  Let’s look at this concept in Scripture.  Is this idea in Matthew’s gospel?  Some prosperity teachers refer to the parable of the sower, which appears in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8; but in each case, the seed sown is not money, but the word of God.  Reaping is also mentioned in the parable of the talents in Matthew twenty-five, but the reaping there occurs at the judgment, after our earthly lives.  So then, there is nothing in Matthew, and nothing in Mark.  What about Luke or John?  We find a somewhat hopeful verse in the sixth chapter of Luke: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again;” (Luke 6:38) but the context of this verse is forgiveness, not money.  Notice the previous verses: “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:” (Luke 6:36-37)  We also have the parable of the talents again in the nineteenth chapter of Luke, but as with the Matthew account, it is irrelevant to our search.  What about this verse in John: “he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.” (John 4:36)  Does this support the prosperity gospel?  Certainly not, for in this context, Jesus is referring to the reaping of souls into the kingdom of God.  A careful search shows that there is nothing in the four gospels which supports the prosperity gospel idea of sowing and reaping.

What about in the rest of the New Testament?  How about in 1 Corinthians nine, where Paul says, “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” (1 Corinthians 9:11)  Again, this is irrelevant, for the seed sown is not money.  Maybe the most hopeful verse of all is found in Second Corinthians nine: “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” (2 Corinthians 9:6)  The context does indeed deal with money; but there is a problem.  Verse six does not describe what is being sown and reaped, but verse ten does: “Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 9:10)  Notice that the seed sown is money, but the fruit which is reaped is not.  This text cannot be used to teach that we give money in order to receive material blessings.  Rather, it only tells us that we reap in spiritual blessings of righteousness.  Therefore, we must search elsewhere to find this illusive prosperity gospel in Scripture.  What about that often-quoted verse in Galatians: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)  Is this verse talking about money?  Not at all.  Notice the next verse: “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” (Galatians 6:8)  We can search all day, but we won’t find a single verse in the New Testament, which supports the prosperity gospel.

Opening the Windows of Heaven

Now we come to the question of whether the Old Testament supports the prosperity gospel in any way.  Anyone who has listened to prosperity teachers knows that they often quote verses from the Old Testament to support their doctrines.  We will not be able to address every single passage which is used, but by dealing with a few basic principles, and using one passage as an example, the truth concerning all of them will become evident.  Let’s look at a favorite go-to verse for most prosperity teachers:

“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:10)

This verse certainly does seem to support the notion of giving financially in order to receive physical blessings; and that will be enough for most to take this verse out of context without any reverence for God’s word—without any desire to understand it rightly.  Can anyone claim that context doesn’t matter?  The Bible says that a weak person eats vegetables (Romans 14:2).  Can we take that from its context and use it as a maxim?  Certainly not!  If we have any reverence for God’s word, we must care about context.  So then, we must consider this promise in the third chapter of Malachi, and how it was given first to the physical nation of Israel, and then secondarily to us.  With that said, does all Old Testament Scripture apply to us in the same way that it applied to the physical nation of Israel?  Certainly not!  Otherwise, we would still be sacrificing animals.  In fact, Malachi deals with Israel’s contempt for the animal sacrifices (Malachi 1:7-8).  If we are to take the book of Malachi literally, as prosperity teachers do with Malachi 3:10, then we better start performing the animal sacrifices again!  Let’s avoid being simplistic with the Scriptures, picking this one and that one for our own interests without concern for their context.  This does not mean that Malachi 3:10 has no application for modern Christians.  Far from it, but the application is not identical to that of the physical nation.

When we read Old Testament promises, we need to keep in mind that Israel did have a kind of prosperity gospel.  All through the Old Testament, God promised to bless them with physical blessings if they would obey.  But to apply these promises to the modern church in the same way would be ignorant.  Consider the change between the old and new covenant.  Things which were temporal and physical in the old covenant, are now spiritual in the new covenant.  For example, the nation of Israel was a physical and earthly nation, but the church is a spiritual nation (Romans 10:19).  The kingdom of Israel was a physical kingdom, but the Kingdom of Heaven is a spiritual kingdom (John 18:36).  Warfare in the old covenant was physical, but now it is spiritual (Ephesians 6:12).  Circumcision was a literal physical requirement, but now it is spiritual (Romans 2:29).  The priesthood was physical, but now it is spiritual (1 Peter 2:9).  The temple was physical, but now it is spiritual (1 Corinthians 3:17).  The promises and blessings were physical, but now they are spiritual (Ephesians 1:3).  When we read the Old Testament, we need to understand it as being filled with shadows and illustrations of spiritual realities (Colossians 2:17, Hebrews 8:4-5, 9:9-10, 10:1).  When we read Malachi 3:10, we cannot apply it strictly literally.  If we did, we would have to do so with all of the Old Testament, and so be compelled to follow all of the commands of the law in a literal way.  We cannot, as prosperity preachers, pick and choose which Old Testament passages we want to apply literally.  Rather, we must interpret the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, and that means looking past the physical to understand the spirit of the law.  In light of this, we might ask, “How should modern Christians apply Malachi 3:10?”  Seeing that it relates to financial giving, we must see it through the lens of those New Testament passages which inform that area of our understanding.  Consequently, we should see it through the lens of passages like the ninth chapter of 2 Corinthians; and there, we see that the sowing of financial seed does not guarantee that we will reap a financial harvest.  Much better than that, it teaches us that we will reap a harvest of righteousness!

As an answer to the prosperity gospel, let us understand what is promised to us when we give financial gifts.  First and foremost, we are promised a spiritual reward in heaven.  Throughout the New Testament, we see that we can exchange earthly treasures for heavenly treasures—not earthly treasures for more earthly treasures! (Matthew 6:20-21, Luke 18:22, 1 Timothy 6:17-19)  Secondly, we are promised that God will supply our basic needs (2 Corinthians 9:10).  So then, as far as physical blessings, we are promised nothing beyond that which we need.  Does this mean that God will never give us more than we need?  Certainly not!  God often blesses us with much more than we need—and we should thank Him for it!—but financial giving is not an investment system.  As we have shown, anyone who says otherwise is misinformed, lacking a right understanding of the Scriptures.

© 2018 Thomas Bluemling All Rights Reserved 

Thomas Bluemling

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

In today’s verses, the apostle John answers, with the utmost clarity, the question of whether or not unbelievers are capable of exhibiting true love.  In his words, “every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” (1 John 4:7)  In other words, everyone who loves is a born-again Christian.  But what about all of the loving people in the world who aren’t Christians?  Are there not unbelievers who have laid down their lives for others in love?  While such acts of apparent selflessness are commendable, and while we may call them acts of love in a more general and non-technical way, none of them can be genuine divine love unless they are works of faith unto God.  All true acts of love are, first and foremost, acts of love towards God; we love God by loving people.  So then, if an act of “love” is performed by an unbeliever, the vertical element of love is entirely absent.  No one can love as unto the Lord when they reject His lordship.  The apostle Paul implied that a person might go as far as giving their body to be burned, and yet be void of true love (1 Corinthians 13:3).  Furthermore, we should keep in mind that the sinful nature has no capacity for true loving.  The Bible says, “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Romans 8:7)  What is the law of God which the carnal mind is incapable of being subject to?  It is the law of love, for all of the law is summed up by the command, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Romans 13:9)  Why is the carnal mind incapable of genuine love?  Answer: Because, as our verse teaches us, “love is of God,” (1 John 4:7) and those who are “without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12) are necessarily without love.  In other words, those who don’t know God cannot love.

Have you ever thought about the relationship between knowing God and loving people?  There is no doubt but that the two are directly tied to one another.  According to our verses, everyone who loves others knows God; and contrariwise, everyone who doesn’t love others doesn’t know God.  This shows us just how closely the love of God and the knowledge of God are connected.  When we survey the Scriptures, we can find many instances where the knowledge of God is virtually equated to love.  Remember that, when we looked at the fruit of the Spirit, we noted that every quality of the fruit is a quality of love.  Now, keeping this in mind, look at the following verses from Paul’s letter to Colossae:

“For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10)

So then, being fruitful makes for increasing in the knowledge of God.  Now, take the truth that spiritual fruit equates to love, and apply it to these verses.  What is the conclusion?  When we love, we increase in the knowledge of God.  It is no wonder then that everyone who loves others knows God!  As we love God by loving one another, we come to know God more as He is working through us.  In this way, we increase in the knowledge of Him!  This is not head knowledge.  No one receives it by studying doctrine without living it out.  The knowledge comes as we live it.  In other words, just as we love God, we know God.  This is why we see verses where doing righteousness is equated to knowing God:

“Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him? He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the Lord.” (Jeremiah 22:15-16)

Above all things, the apostle Paul wanted to “know [Christ];” (Philippians 3:7) and how would he come to know him? Would it be by burying himself in the Scriptures in order to discover God intellectually?  Certainly not!  It would be by denying all things self, and by living unto God in obedient love:

“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;” (Philippians 3:7-10)

No one can attain to the knowledge of Christ without making the exchange which Paul describes in these verses; and this is because the denial of self is a precondition to the knowledge of God.  The self-life is a lie, but the knowledge of God is the ultimate Truth.  Naturally, these two cannot coexist in the heart; for the lies which drive a self-oriented life stand in direct contradiction to the truth which drives a life of love.  Consequently, before a person can attain to the knowledge of God, they must have repented, turning in their hearts and minds from lies to truth.  If lies are not exchanged for truth, then there can be no increase in the knowledge of God.  This is why God said of Israel, “through deceit they refuse to know me, saith the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:6)  The level of self-deception in the heart directly relates to one’s knowledge of God—the more lies, the less truth, and visa versa.  Furthermore, we can only know that we have exchanged truth for lies if the truth becomes the basis by which we live.  This is why the knowledge of Christ is the means by which we escape the pollutions of the world (2 Peter 2:20).  When we sincerely receive the love of the truth, our lives will change from sin unto righteousness, from unbelief and godlessness to faith working by love.  A sinful life is a life built on sin-enabling lies—lies which demonstrate the absence of the knowledge of God.  Regardless of what they claim, those who continue in sin don’t know God: “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” (Titus 1:16)  Before anyone can obtain the knowledge of God, they must necessarily throw away a life of lies, and this exchange will not be without visible consequences.

Knowing God is knowing love, for God is love; and therefore, increasing in the knowledge of God is equivalent to increasing in the knowledge of love—not intellectually, but spiritually as the Spirit of love is transfused into our whole being.  Paul prayed for the Ephesians to “be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that [they] might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)  Being filled with the fullness of God is all about knowing Him, and knowing Him is all about loving Him!

We need to ask ourselves the question, Do we know God?  Have we made that great exchange, throwing away the self-life with all of its lies, and embracing divine truth?  Has this exchange resulted in a changed life which clearly evidences our forsaking of sin-enabling lies?  As the route of a train reveals what set of tracks it is on, even so, the life of a soul reveals what it holds, at the heart level, to be true.  Are we living for selfish worldly pleasure?  Such a life can only be founded on lies.  Accordingly, the Scripture tells us that those who live for pleasure are dead while they yet live (1 Timothy 5:6).  A life founded upon the truth is a life unto God and no other.  If we know God, we will be living unto Him in love; and the more that we increase in love, bearing the fruit of righteousness, the more that we will increase in our knowledge of Him.  Many say that they desire to know God, but how many are willing, like the apostle Paul, to deny themselves and count all things as nothing in relation to this knowledge?  How many demonstrate their desire to know God by their actions?  We cannot grow in the knowledge of Christ without self-denial and selfless love, for that is the means by which we are spiritually enlightened to this knowledge.  Friends, when are we going to wake up from our spiritual sleep and begin to live in the reality of true love?  When are we going to lay down our lives for the excellency of the knowledge of our Lord?  May we take John’s words to heart and continually echo them in our hearts, “Beloved, let us love one another.” (1 John 4:7)

© 2018 Thomas Bluemling All Rights Reserved 

Thomas Bluemling

“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16)

How are we to understand the love of God?  How can we know something which “passeth knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19)?  How are we to comprehend perfection?  To these questions, the apostle John gives us the answer, an answer that takes us back to the cross.  We can perceive this glorious love when we look at what Christ did for us, how He laid down his life for us.  The cross is where the glory of God shined most brilliantly.  It was there that all of the wonder of who God is was put on display.  And as our verse indicates, at the very center of that revelation is selfless sacrifice.

At the cross, God showed us that His nature is to give Himself.  Consider that, at the cross, both the Father and the Son were demonstrating this quality.  First, the Father was demonstrating it by giving His beloved Son.  As the Scripture says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16).  What kind of love is this?—that a loving Father would give His own Son to a horrifying sacrificial death to save wicked people?  How could the Father take His perfect Son, the Son who had only ever obeyed His will, and subject Him to such unimaginable suffering?—and that for sinners!  Consider the magnitude of the Father’s love for the Son.  It is greater than the endless expanse which hangs over our heads at night.  It is greater in proportion to our conception of love than is an ocean to a drop of rain.  How could it be that the Father would give His Son, beloved beyond all comprehension, to us who have hated Him beyond all comprehension?  Though these thoughts are too great for finite minds, it is through them that we perceive something of the love of God.  It is this sacrifice, this wholesale unmitigated giving-ness which surpasses our furthest contemplations, which is so unimaginably unreachable to our intellect; and yet, somehow, we perceive this love—we see the very heart of the living God!  And no wonder it is so unsearchable; it is Him.  There can be no exhaustive understanding of love, for to have such knowledge would be omniscience; and yet, we may know Him, and always be knowing more of Him.  Secondly, the Son was demonstrating this selfless sacrifice by giving Himself.  As the Scripture says, He “loved [us], and gave himself for [us].” (Galatians 2:20)  This is how we see the love of God!  Setting our hearts upon this act of sacrifice is the means by which we perceive perfection! “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).  Brothers and sisters, are we seeing it yet?—or are we like Philip, to whom Jesus said, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” (John 14:9)  For all of the talk about the cross, how small is our realization of it?  God, help us to see the glory of the cross!  Open the eyes of our understanding, that we might perceive the love of God, perceive who You are!  He was willing to go into death for us, to suffer unknowable horror and torment under the wrath which we were marked for, to take our place that we might be raised with Him unto eternal glory!  Why would He do this?  There is nothing in us that is even remotely worth saving!  Furthermore, we are such self-deceiving creatures by nature, that we hardly grasp how hideous our nature is!  Why would He save us?  What could have moved Him to take upon Himself such a weight of divine judgment?  Brethren, it is not what, but Who—it is who He is.  “God is love,” (1 John 4:16) and love is what we are marveling at when we consider the cross of Jesus Christ.  We are marveling at Him, at how selfless He is, how giving He is, how merciful He is, how just He is, and so much more which is revealed to us at the cross.  It is His glory being revealed before the eyes of our hearts!

Now that we have perceived the love of God, if indeed we have perceived it, what effect is it to have upon us who believe?  Are we to marvel at it shortly, and then go away unchanged?  God forbid!  As our verse reminds us, the reality of God’s love ought to have a life-changing effect upon us: “he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16)  There is an inevitable impact made on anyone who truly perceives the love of God in the gospel.  Thus, the Scripture says, “whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.” (1 John 3:6)  Again, it is written, “he that doeth evil hath not seen God.” (3 John 1:11)  Those who hear the gospel, and who are not changed by it, have never really understood it.  They might understand, and may even agree with, a set of facts about the cross, but they have not seen the glory of the cross; for, if they had seen it, it would have changed them and would be changing them.  They may know much about God, but they don’t know Him.  If they knew Him, they would not abide in darkness, but would come into the light of righteousness and love through faith in Jesus.

The modern day church needs to understand the relationship between the love of Christ at Calvary and the love which they ought to be walking in.  Our Christian love, if it is genuine, is dependent upon a spiritual understanding of God’s love for us at the cross.  Jesus taught that those who are forgiven of much love much (Luke 7:47).  In other words, our love for God directly corresponds to our estimation of the weight of our sins.  If our sins are a small matter in our esteem, then in our estimation, we have been forgiven of little.  But, if we have realized the heinousness of sin, and understand it to be truly worthy of eternal damnation, we perceive that we have been forgiven of much!  As great as the gift of forgiveness is to us, even so will our love for God correspond.  The love of God is not some stagnant old truth which we ponder on Sundays; but rather, it is something which we live in the light of.  Let us recall the words of the apostle Paul, “the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)  As these verses demonstrate, the love of God changes our entire life-orientation from living unto self to living unto God.  This love constrains us—it compels us to live a different life; not a life we loathe, but a life in which we delight!  Simply stated, love makes us love! No one can be loved salvifically by God without living a life of love.  It is literally impossible that such a thing could ever occur.  As the Scripture says, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:8)  God has demonstrated His love towards us at the cross; but if our faith doesn’t kill our selfishness and make us a servant, we have never seen His love.  We are still blind and dead in our sins.  Saying that someone can be saved without changing is like saying that a mile-wide meteor can land in the ocean without causing a splash.

No amount of studying the doctrine of love can enable one who is blinded by sin to perceive it.  It is all too easy to approach these matters with an intellectual mindset, not realizing that they are spiritual.  If, upon examining our own hearts and lives, we do not see the fruit of love, we have reason to question whether we have ever perceived it at all.  If we have seen it, it will be changing us.  We will be transforming into a reflection of it.  Many suppose that they know all about the love of God, and yet have never known it in the slightest.  Their life of unrighteousness and lovelessness is a testimony to their spiritual blindness.  Remember, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Therefore, we must not judge our knowledge of love by the facts which we have accumulated concerning it, but by the reality of love being manifested in our lives.  Are we laying down our lives for the brethren even as Christ laid down His life for us?  Are we really doing anything which requires any sacrifice on our part?  If there is a lack of love in our lives, we have great need to return to the cross, and to remain at the foot of it, asking our Lord to give us a fresh sense of His glory.  We need to perceive the love of God so that it might compel us to be like Him, to take up our cross daily and follow Him.  Let us determine to set aside some time, and reflect on the love of God as it is revealed through the cross.  Let us pray, asking God to show us the weight of our sins and the magnitude of His forgiveness.  Let us ask Him to change us, that we might live always in the light of that great love!

© 2018 Thomas Bluemling All Rights Reserved 

Thomas Bluemling

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)

In the last few days, we have been confronted with the reality of genuine love, how it lays down its life for others in sincere selflessness.  Now, the apostle John sets forth a challenge.  It is a challenge to put an end to words without actions.  It is an unhealthy church indeed which is filled with nice people who do not love one another.  One man gives a heart-moving testimony, but then it is discovered that he has been abusing his wife.  A woman who greets everyone with a smile is, in reality, a viper, spreading the poison of gossip and slander throughout the church.  Another compliments the pastor with joy, but speaks evil of him behind his back. Some are lying at work; several are committing tax fraud; a few are having affairs; one has cheated his own family out of what he owed; some gather for pessimistic gossip; one is tempting a married man; several are hating others in their minds; most esteem themselves better than the others; and all of this is happening under the motto of “love God and love people!”  Such a church is a den of hypocrites, an abominable fraud.  Now certainly, there will always be varying levels of maturity in a church, and without a doubt, some false converts; but nevertheless, a healthy church will be a reflection of the love of Christ.  It is that genuine love, love which is married to truth and expressed in action, which marks us before the eyes of the world as true Christians: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)

Whenever our hearts are not set upon the Lord, we are bound to drift into hypocrisy.  As the degree of our desire for God decreases, so also does the degree of our sincere love for one another.  In time, we are bound to end up as an empty shell, a smiling lie where love once abounded.  Where before there was concern and good deeds, now there is sour criticism.  Where before there was selfless service, now there is laziness.  Where before there was passion and affection for the saints, now there is bitterness and contempt.  Where before there was giving, now there are stingy assumptions and withholding.  Where before there was joy, now there is murmmering and complaining.  Where before there was action and fruit unto God, now there is stagnation and death.  This is what happens when sin turns our hearts away from the love of Christ, from a continual preoccupation with giving ourselves to Him who died for us.  All too quickly, we become those who have “a form of godliness, but [who deny] the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5).  We become those who love in word and tongue, but not in deed and truth.  In the book of James, we are reminded of how meaningless it is to be nice without loving:

“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” (James 2:15-16)

The modern church is plagued by this kind of “hateful niceness,” this meaningless hypocrisy.  John is challenging us today not to love only with our words, not to just talk like a Christian, but to begin walking like a Christian.  To love in word only is to live a lie, but love in deed and in truth is to abide in God.

The sincerity of our love relates directly to our personal relationship with the Truth.  Consider that, to love in word only is to be a hypocrite; it is to be an actor, and thus, a liar. Furthermore, never a man lied to another without first lying to himself, for there must be a reason to lie which there never truly is.  As the Scripture says, “no lie is of the truth.” (1 John 2:21)  We will go further still: Never a man lied to himself without rejecting God, for to do so is to reject Truth which God is.  Thus, it is impossible to love in word only without rejecting God.  In the following passage, we can see how Israel was rejecting the knowledge of God as they continued to lie to themselves:

“Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! for they be all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the Lord. Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother: for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbour will walk with slanders. And they will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity. Thine habitation is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know me, saith the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:1-6)

Whenever we love in word only, we are embracing lies, and rejecting Truth and Love which is God.  Just like Israel, we are refusing to know the Lord through deceit.  Remember, it is those who do the truth who come to the light (John 3:21), and the light is God (1 John 1:5).  Logically then, those who love only in word, who live according to the lies of their own hearts, who do not do the truth, are the same who reject the light, the same who reject God.

Love is not self-definable, but is living Truth.  Remember, we love God by believing and obeying Him (1 John 5:3), and believing and obedience are things done according to Truth.  Thus, loving without truth is literally impossible.  Even our affections for God cannot be severed from truth, for we cannot love God without loving truth, for He is “a God of truth and without iniquity” (Deuteronomy 32:4).  And, if we do indeed love truth, we cannot simultaneously love lies.  Consequently, true affection for God is incompatible with the lies which feed into hypocritical love.

What we do with truth has everything to do with our love.  When people “turn away their ears from the truth,” (2 Timothy 4:4) their love for pleasure is more compelling than their love for God.  They are willing to embrace a lie if it serves their interest.  If their love for God was preeminent, nothing would deter then from seeking truth, even if it required them to forsake sinful pleasures and selfishness.  Thus, when people “resist the truth,” (2 Timothy 3:8) they are resisting true love, and when they “turn from the truth,” (Titus 1:14) They are turning from true love.  No one can be saved without receiving the love of the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10), and no one can receive the love of the truth without forsaking the lies upon which sin is founded.  Loving God is loving Truth.

Love and Truth are eternally married, and one cannot treat one in any manner without so treating the other.  One cannot esteem one in any way without so esteeming the other.  One cannot speak against one without speaking against the other.  No one can do one without doing the other.  There is no emphasis of love when there is no emphasis of truth.  There is no growing in love when there is no growing in truth.  When we understand this, we can expose many of the Devil’s lies, for he is always attempting to divorce the two.  Every form of counterfeit love must necessarily separate love from truth.  This whole idea that “doctrine divides, but love unites” is a lie of Satan.  Doctrine simply means teaching, and right teaching is truth.  You can’t love without truth, because love is knowing the Truth and is expressed by obedience to the truth; and you can’t obey the truth if you don’t know it; and you can’t know it if you aren’t taught it.  Thus, love is built on truth.  To minimize doctrine is to minimize the truth by which we love.

The quality of our love manifests our relationship with truth.  Regardless of how doctrinally sound we are, if we are not laying down our lives for others, we have not received the truth.  No one who loves truth lives according to lies, yet so many professing Christians do not love sacrificially, and so do not love truth; nor do they love God, for God is Truth.  We need to understand that, when it comes to loving God, our life is our doctrinal statement.  Our actions will reveal what we truly believe and what we really love.

Loving words are good, and we should not neglect them, but they must be accompanied by loving actions which correspond to divine truth.  If we bless in word, let us also bless in deed.  If we love God in song, let us also love Him in selfless service.  If we talk much about the truth, let us also live the truth.  May we, by the grace of God, esteem love and truth as inseparably joined, as being always in agreement with one another, as equally desirable and amiable.  In other words, let us love God as He is revealed to us in Scripture.

© 2018 Thomas Bluemling All Rights Reserved 

Thomas Bluemling

“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” (James 1:12)

Our study of love has now brought us to the straightforward and practical book of James.  This is a book written to confront hypocrisy in faith, partiality in love, and unholy conduct.  It encourages us to continue in patience, to show mercy, to seek wisdom, and to love sacrificially.  It warns us of the danger of lusts, the power of the tongue, and the deceptions of sin and the devil.  It urges us to lay aside all filthiness, to receive the engrafted word with meekness, and to pray fervently.  While love is only explicitly mentioned three times, it is taught implicitly throughout the entire letter.

In our verse, we can see the connection between love and enduring temptations; those who love Jesus are the same who endure the trial of their faith and receive the crown of life.  Fiery trials are the testing ground of our faith and love, and God has ordained that all His people must pass through the fire: “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12)  Between each of us and glory, there lies a proverbial mine field of trials which we must pass through to gain this victor’s crown.  As much as we can be sure that God has called us to salvation, we can be sure that He has called us to suffering.  The life of the apostle Paul serves as an example of our call to suffering.  The Lord spoke of the Paul saying, “he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.” (Acts 9:15-16)  In the same way that Paul was called to suffering for the name of Jesus, so also is every true Christian:

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:16-17)

Only those who have denied themselves, who have loved the Lord more than their own lives, will embrace the suffering of the cross.  This is why these trials are so important; because they manifest the nature of our love for God, whether it is genuine or not.  Jesus warned about those who, despite their apparent love for God, would fall away in times of persecution:

he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;

 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.” (Matthew 13:20-21)

In the midst of severe trials, the temptation to become offended at God can be very strong.  Whenever painful sickness afflicts us; whenever our closest friends betray us; whenever we lose everything; Satan will tempt us to become offended, and to get angry at God.  We can see how Job’s wife fell into this sin, for, after the loss of their flocks, herds, and their children—when Job was covered in painful boils from head to toe, she said, “Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.” (Job 2:9)  In spite of his wife’s unhelpful advice, Job refused to forsake his faith and trust in the Lord.  He answered his wife with wisdom saying, “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10)  Job was being tested by the most severe trial, and where others would no doubt break under the affliction and become offended, Job’s love for God only shined with greater brilliance.  From the tormenting affliction of the fiery trial, Job’s words were not of wrath, but of praise: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).  In our letter, James even uses Job’s patient faith as an example for all Christians who are suffering:

“Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” (James 5:10-11)

In the first chapter of James’ letter, we can learn much about enduring trials.  James begins by setting forth the proper attitude towards suffering:

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Does God really want us to look at our suffering as something joyful?  Does He really expect us to have a big smile on our face when we are afflicted by trials?  It is not a matter of forcing a smile in times of suffering, but rather, in having a deep realization of what God is doing through our suffering.  With eyes of faith, we must look past our unenjoyable circumstances to see the blessing that God is giving us through the trial.  Notice in the following verses, how God works through trials to bring us to new heights of righteousness and holiness in our walk with Him:

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope” (Romans 5:3-4) 

“For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10)

“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” (Hebrews 12:11)

“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” (James 1:3)

Enduring fiery trials is only possible when we have the wisdom to accept that, even in our suffering, God is working all things for our good.  When we are in severe pain or grief, Satan will tempt us with lies, telling us that God does not love us or that He is not treating us as He should.  He will even use people like Job’s wife to come along and lure us into his snares of sin and unbelief.  This is why wisdom is so crucial in times of suffering.  After instructing us to count it all joy when we fall into temptations, James turns to this important matter of divine wisdom:

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8)

When we find our faith being tested, one of the most needful graces is wisdom; we need wisdom to see our circumstances through the lens of faith, and to understand our suffering in the broader and more spiritual context of what God is doing within our hearts.  The reason that Job’s wife spoke “as one of the foolish women” (Job 2:10) was because she lacked the wisdom which Job had.  In the same way, there are many Christians who fall into a wrong mindset in times of trials, for they become angry at the Lord for their suffering, not realizing that He desires to bless them through the trial.  Because of this attitude, it is likely that many forfeit the blessing, for chastening is only profitable to those who are trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).

James teaches us to have an attitude of one who is in training.  First, he warns us not to suppose that God Himself is tempting us to sin:

Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:13-15)

One of the reasons that people become offended and angry at God is because they begin to blame Him for their sins.  When they get angry during trials, they justify their anger by accusing God of causing their sin by placing them in such terrible circumstances.  In this, they fall into the same sin as Job’s wife.

Secondly,  James teaches us how God has designed us to be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures, and how according to this intent, we are to manifest the righteousness of God from the midst of these trials (James 1:17-20).  Thus, he warns against becoming angry, saying, “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)  Remember, according to the writer of Hebrews, our trials yield “the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised [or trained] thereby;” (Hebrews 12:11) and not unto them who react with anger toward God for their suffering.  Therefore, we must hold fast to the faith in times of suffering, trusting in the Lord, and remaining reverent towards Him: “we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Hebrews 12:9)  In our trials, we must be wise, and understand that our loving Father has no delight in our suffering, but that He is working something in us of immeasurable value.  While our suffering might be painful, and while it may be difficult to look at our situation with joy, we must pray for the wisdom to see our suffering according to God’s word.

Lastly, James presents us with the right mentality of one who is being trained by God through trials.  He writes, “my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).  If we are to learn from our trials, we must be swift to hear; we must keep our ears open to receiving wisdom from God.  Thus, James urges us to “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save [our] souls.” (James 1:21)  If we are to learn from our trials, we must be slow to speak.  Just as Job, we must guard our mouths in times of suffering, for Satan will tempt us to say things which we will regret later.  Finally, if we are to learn from our trials, we must be slow to wrath.  As we have noted, the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness which God has designed us for.

In all of our suffering, we must keep our eyes on Jesus, and on the glory we will share with Him.  We must always remember that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).  As our verse reveals, there is going to be a magnificent celebration on that day when we appear before our Lord with joy.  How quickly will all of our trials be forgotten when we receive the crown of life, that blessed crown of victory which is promised to all of us who love Jesus!

© 2018 Thomas Bluemling All Rights Reserved

Thomas Bluemling

"For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." (Hebrews 12:6)

If we are to have a right understanding of the love of God, we must not overlook how His love is sometimes expressed in loving discipline. There are some Bible teachers who have taught Christians that it is never God’s will for His children to suffer; but this is simply not the case. The Bible says, "as a man chasteneth [or disciplines] his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee." (Deuteronomy 8:5) In fact, we learn from the twelfth chapter of Hebrews that, if someone is not disciplined by God, they are not His true children: "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons." (Hebrews 12:7-8) All true children of God will, from time to time, come under the rod of God’s loving discipline. The Bible tells us that God will rebuke us if we need it (Hebrews 12:5). Have you ever thought of God as a Father who will rebuke you when you need it? Those who have come under the rod of God’s discipline know all too well how severe His rebukes can be. For example, when the Corinthians were taking communion in an unworthy manner, many of them became physically sick, and some even died (1 Corinthians 11:30). This severe chastening wasn’t God hating the Corinthians, but loving them by disciplining them as a good Father. The apostle Paul made it clear that if the Corinthians would have judged themselves, God would not have needed to judge them (1 Corinthians 11:31).

With that said, it is important to have a right attitude towards His discipline. The Bible says, "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him" (Hebrews 12:5). If we are not of an understanding heart, we may become bitter against God when we are chastened. Rather than allowing God to correct us, we may become even more hardened in our sin. The following section of Hebrews twelve addresses our tendency to become bitter, and warns us against it:

"Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed." (Hebrews 12:9-13)

In these verses, we learn of the attitude which we must have towards chastening. We are to be in subjection to our Father, not becoming angry or rebellious, and we are to be "exercised" by His chastening, allowing it to correct us rather than resisting His will. As these verses reveal, when God is chastening us, He is trying to heal us; but if we harden our hearts, we may be turned out of the way and become worse and worse. As this shows, it is important to understand that God is not allowing us to suffer simply to make us suffer, as if He enjoyed troubling us. On the contrary, He acts in our best interest.

This brings us to an important point regarding the chastening of the Lord. Should we think that God is angry with us when we are chastened? The Bible reveals that when David was chastened, the Lord was angry with him for his sin:

"O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. For thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore. There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin." (Psalms 38:1-3)

Should modern Christians, we who are under the new covenant, fear the wrath, meaning anger, of God? Should we believe that God becomes angry with us when we sin? Many modern-day Christians would say that God doesn’t get angry with Christians the way that He got angry with Israel in the Old Testament. But does the New Testament tell us that God never gets angry with us? There is this notion in the modern church that, because of the cross, God no longer becomes angry with His people when they rebel. According to this line of thought, God does not look on us as sinful even when we sin, but rather, He sees only the righteousness of Christ which has been applied to us; but the New Testament makes it clear that, even though we are accounted righteous in Christ, God is not blind to our conduct. Consider that the jealousy of God, which is a form of righteous anger, applies even to new covenant believers:

Old Testament: "They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger." (Deuteronomy 32:16)

Old Testament: "How long, LORD? wilt thou be angry for ever? shall thy jealousy burn like fire?" (Psalms 79:5)

New Testament: "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy [meaning jealousy]?" (James 4:4-5)

New Testament: "But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?" (1 Corinthians 10:20-22)

Many Christians have been led to believe that the way God deals with His people has changed in the new covenant. They believe that, since we have been accounted as righteous by faith in Christ, God can’t get angry with us; but we need to remember that the Old Testament saints were declared righteous even as we are in the new covenant. In fact, when the apostle Paul wrote about justification by faith, he used Abraham as an example! Old Testament saints therefore, were also accounted as righteous by faith, and yet, God still became angry with them when they sinned. For example, the Bible tells us that "the Lord was with Jehoshaphat" (2 Chronicles 17:3) and that "his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord," (2 Chronicles 17:6) yet when he sinned, wrath was upon him from before the Lord (2 Chronicles 19:2). Likewise, Hezekiah "clave to the Lord, and departed not from following him," (2 Chronicles 18:6) yet the Bible tells us that when he sinned, "there was wrath upon him" (2 Chronicles 32:25). The bottom line is, whether you believe that God becomes angry with rebellious Christians, or if He is only displeased, He is certainly not indifferent to disobedience and will discipline those whom He loves.

As we have noted in previous meditations, we need to have a healthy fear of God; not fear as only reverence, but fear as trembling at His word. In many churches, a lopsided concept of God is being taught, a conception which has been stripped of anything severe or frightening. Many are being led to believe that a sin-hating God doesn’t become angry at rebellion—and this in spite of many severe warnings throughout Scripture. Friends, we need to return to a balanced understanding of God. We need to understand that God has given the Old Testament for our instruction, and that God wants us to learn about Him and how He reacts to sin by reading those accounts (1 Corinthians 10). Many Bible teachers want to cut the Bible into many pieces, telling us that this part was only for this group, and that part was only for that group; but these are man-made divisions created according to the wisdom of man and not God. God wants us to understand that the accounts in the Old Testament "are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." (1 Corinthians 10:11) It is high time that we return to a balanced understanding of God, and learn of His goodness and severity:

"For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off." (Romans 11:21-22)

With all of these things in mind, we need to be careful not to suppose that God would hate His own children. The best way to illustrate this is to think of God’s anger as the anger of a loving father. The father who loves his son will become angry with his son’s rebellion because he cares for him and knows that he has been raised better. It is theunloving father who is careless towards his son’s rebellion, and who does not rebuke or restrain him (1 Samuel 3:13). A good example of this loving anger is seen in how Jesus reacted to the hard-hearted religious leaders in Israel. Israel was His own chosen nation, and Jesus was not only grieved, but angry with their rebellion:

"And they watched [Jesus], whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other." (Mark 3:2-5)

We have been blessed to meditate on an aspect of God’s love which is not studied and discussed as much as it probably should be. How wonderful it is to know that our Father loves us enough to correct us when we need it! May we not harden our hearts when we are disciplined, but allow God to correct us. Then, when chastening yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness, we will say with the psalmist, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes." (Psalms 119:71)

© 2018 Thomas B Bluemling All Rights Reserved

Thomas Bluemling

"And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." (Hebrews 10:24-25)

In yesterday’s meditation, we were reminded of what genuine love looks like in a Spirit-filled church. Rather than being a once-a-week event, a thriving church is an organism, a body of redeemed people who have left off loving the world—who have left off loving their own lives, and who have made conformity to Christ the wholehearted ambition of their lives. It is with great joy that they live as being dead to the desires, ambitions, and cares of self, and expend themselves unrestrainedly in ministering to one another (Acts 2:42-47). They desire opportunities to love others sacrificially because they understand that insomuch as they are crucified to self, the life of Christ is manifested in them (2 Corinthians 4:10, Galatians 2:20). Now, for today’s meditation, we will continue to focus on the true Spirit-filled church, but this time with an emphasis on fellowship. As we noted yesterday, the early church was "continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house" (Acts 2:46). Apparently, the life of the church was life to these Christians, for their whole world seems to have revolved around meeting with other believers in fellowship.

In our verses, we can see the importance of this continual fellowship among believers, for we are commanded not to "[forsake] the assembling of ourselves together" (Hebrews 10:24). Now, this verse is most often used in relation to Sunday church services, but it applies to more than that. The author writes that, rather than forsaking fellowship, we must exhort, or encourage, one another. How frequently are these exhortations necessary? Early in this letter, he writes, "exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." (Hebrews 3:13) Thus, we are all in need of daily spiritual encouragement from one another. God has designed His church to be mutually dependent, and to grow as various members of the body minister with their spiritual gifts. While Christians have always met on the first day of the week, we should not suppose that they only met weekly. As these verses show, the early Christians were in fellowship on a daily basis. Consider that the church grows as "every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part" (Ephesians 4:16). With this in mind, isn’t it obvious that a church in daily fellowship would experience exponentially greater growth than a church which only meets once of week? More meetings mean more opportunities for ministering to one another, and more ministry to one another means more spiritual growth. Not only that, but it means less opportunity for Satan to deceive Christians, for such daily exhortations serve to guard them against his lies.

We may all agree that daily fellowship is ideal, and even that it is commanded, but how could it be possible in our modern busy world? How could Christians meet for daily fellowship when many are working long hours and have numerous obligations to fulfill in the evenings? The answer is a process of disentanglement from the world. The Bible says, "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." (2 Timothy 2:4) If we are to have maximum fellowship in a busy world, we must teach and strive for disentanglement from it. The world tells us that we need to be involved in this, and we need to be involved in that, and our kids need to be doing this and that; but God hasn’t told us that we need these activities in our lives. On the contrary, our God tells us that we need daily fellowship. So many Christians have become entangled in the world to the point of exhaustion and frustration. Many are entangled because of their need for money, or because of various other obligations. The good news is that God doesn’t ever give us commands that we can’t keep with His power! As we strive to free ourselves from these entanglements, and as we rely on Him to free us, we will grow in freedom to serve Him.

With these things in mind, we need to turn our attention to the purpose of this daily exhortation. Our verses tell us to "consider one another" (Hebrews 10:24). We are not primarily to consider ourselves when we fellowship, but to consider one another. We should follow in the example of Paul who, desiring to visit the Roman Christians, said, "I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established" (Romans 1:11). Paul’s primary motive for wanting to fellowship was not for his own gain, but for the gain of others. He wanted to minister to them so that they might be edified, built up and strengthened in the faith. Now, compare this to the way many people think about fellowship in our day. Whether it be Sunday services or gatherings at homes, many Christians decide whether or not they will attend from selfish motives. They may not attend church because they don’t like the music, or because they don’t like how other Christians act, and so forth. But this is a complete reversal of how we ought to think about Christian fellowship. We should be desiring to fellowship so that we can be a blessing to others regardless of how much we enjoy the meetings or how we ourselves are treated. It is the nature of love to forget oneself and to focus entirely on serving others. This is the attitude with which we need to approach fellowship. So many Christians are looking for a perfect church with perfectly nice people who all have a perfect understanding of doctrine; and when they find an imperfect church, they look elsewhere rather than seeing an opportunity to minister and to be used by God in the perfecting of that church. This is not to say that doctrine doesn’t matter, nor that how a congregation treats visitors is irrelevant, but only to emphasize that there is no perfect church, and that, so long as a church stands on the true gospel, we need to see imperfection as potential growth, and to desire for God to use us in that growth. Fellowship is not primarily about considering ourselves, but considering one another.

There are now many professing Christians who are not actively fellowshipping with other believers. Many will even say, "I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian." This attitude is addressed directly in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where, in describing the local church as a body, he writes, "the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you." (1 Corinthians 12:21) In other words, a Christian cannot say that they have no need to be in fellowship with other believers. Why is this? Because, as we have noted before, God has designed all members of the local church to be mutually dependent. God has made us to be spiritually dependent on the various gifts of the other members. The Bible says, "we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." (Romans 12:5) God has designed each local body of believers in such a way that all of the members need one another and grow together as they serve each other in love. Not only do we need the ministry of other believers, but other believers need our ministry. By neglecting Christian fellowship, we rob ourselves of blessings we would receive, we rob others of blessings we would impart to them, and we disobey the Lord who commands us not to forsake the fellowship.

Notice also the reason that we are to consider one another, "to provoke unto love and to good works" (Hebrews 10:24). God desires His church to be "a peculiar [meaning special] people, zealous of good works." (Titus 2:14) When we fellowship with one another, our desire should be to serve one another in love, and to stir ourselves and the brethren up to good works. What does this teach us about love? It teaches us that, if we desire to live a life filled with expressions of God’s love, we need to be in fellowship, for it is the means by which Christians are continually provoked unto love and good works! We have an example provoking unto love in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

"For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many." (2 Corinthians 9:1-2)

As these verses show, a zeal for good works can have a contagious effect among Christians. When we continue in fellowship, and see other Christians bearing fruit in various works of love, it tends to encourage our hearts and provoke us unto love! When a local church is filled with the Spirit, and many are involved in works of selfless love, the effect can turn the world upside-down (Acts 17:6)! This won’t happen in church that is just busy with programs and activities. There are countless churches which wear themselves out with such things. Rather, it happens when a church is truly growing up into Christ by self-denial, mutual edification, and faith working by love as the Spirit leads. There is a real spiritual energy in a church which is being used mightily by God, an energy which cannot be manufactured by adding programs, changing the music, or appealing to emotions. It is the joy and energy of the Holy Spirit at work in Christians who are dying to themselves and spending themselves in service to one another.

If Satan has his way, he will turn our churches into spiritual grave yards, buildings filled with dead religion. He desires to keep us entangled in the affairs of this life, so that we will never experience the spiritual growth and power which the early Christians had. He desires to be deceived in how we think about Christian fellowship, so that we don’t attend church, so that we don’t desire daily fellowship, so that we remain ignorant to the life of spiritual power which comes from such mutual ministry. He is quite pleased with our priorities being out of order, and with our one hour of religion a week. But he cannot stop God from awakening His church! Let us arise from our sleep to true spiritual power and victory. Let us no longer forsake the assembling of ourselves, and instead exhort one another daily unto love and good works!

© 2018 Thomas B Bluemling All Rights Reserved

Thomas Bluemling

“For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Hebrews 6:10)

Real love often requires hard work and great sacrifice.  It isn’t the kind of love which says kind words and then abandons you in your time of need (James 2:15-16).  On the contrary, it is love that bends over backwards to serve, to edify, to bear the burdens of others.  Modern Christianity emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus, but all too often, it fails to emphasize how our relationships to others are part of our relationship with Jesus.  For too many Christians, there is a disconnect between laboring in love for others and showing love toward Jesus.  They suppose that the Lord will be pleased with them if they read the Bible more, put more money in the offering plate, or go on a fast; yet they will not pour themselves out in service to others.  The following excerpt shows that this same error was also prevalent in ancient Israel:

“Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:5-7)

We need to understand that we cannot be a friend of God without also being a servant.  Our verse teaches us that our work and labor of love must be shown toward the Lord; and showing love towards the Lord is done, at least in part, by ministering to the saints.  Remember what the apostle Paul said concerning the love of Philemon:

“I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints” (Philemon 1:4-5)

When there are urgent needs within the church, do we see an opportunity to show love toward Jesus?  Or, are we only concerned with our own “personal relationship” with Jesus?  The reality is, if we have not the heart to serve others in love, our relationship with Jesus, regardless of how spiritual we suppose we are, is lacking in love.  God’s word to His people is, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” (Philippians 2:4)  All of us have been brought together into one spiritual body, and “all the members of that one body, being many, are one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12).  Consequently, the needs of one member of the body are the needs of the whole.  We are connected to one another in Christ, and therefore, to neglect the needs of other saints is to neglect our own body.  Not only that, but it is to neglect our Lord!  Remember, on the Day of Judgment, Jesus is going to separate the sheep from the goats based on whether or not they showed love to Him.  The goats will be horrified to learn that by neglecting the needs of others, they were neglecting Jesus Christ:

“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” (Matthew 25:41-46)

There are many churches in which people come and go with little more interaction than a smile and a handshake, where so few are even aware of the desperate physical and spiritual needs all around them.  This is one of the consequences of turning churches into theatres where the musicians and the preachers perform for the audience, an audience which is only asked to give tithes and offerings.  In other words, “Bring your wallets, not your problems.”  This is a far cry from the reality of a Spirit-filled church, one in which the members of the body are deeply involved in each other’s lives and in serving one another in love.  In the book of Acts, we are given an example of what a Spirit-filled church looks like:

“And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

These early Christians didn’t compartmentalize their faith—they didn’t limit it just to Sunday.  On the contrary, they were gathering daily!  More than that, they were in each other’s homes, for they went from house to house sharing meals with one another joyfully.  Unlike many modern professing Christians, they were not trying to protect their own way of life.  We don’t hear anything about the family that was too busy to share their home with the others.  We don’t read about the family that was only seen once a week with little to no involvement.  These Christians had truly given their hearts to the Lord, and that resulted in them giving their time, their possessions, and their service to one another with joy!  We don’t read about the family who had great need, but who were virtually ignored by the church.  On the contrary, these Christians made it their business to know one another’s needs, and went as far as selling their own things to meet those needs!  They didn’t hold back their savings for their retirement plans.  They didn’t offer their brethren temporary loans.  Friends, there is no way we will see a truly Spirit-filled church until we see Christians who are wholeheartedly given to the Lord, who sincerely love sacrificially.  The world is waiting to see true power in the professing church, and that power can only be manifested when we die to self in love for others.  Remember Jesus’ command, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34)  How did Jesus love us?—by the greatest self-sacrifice of all time!  Our love for one another is to reflect that sacrifice.  In other words, when our love for one another becomes like Jesus’ love, it will put us on a cross to ourselves; it will require us to serve others at great personal cost.  This is not Sunday religion.  This is not compartmentalized Christianity.  Without death to self in the church, there can never be true life.

What is the secret to this willingness to die to self in love for others?  These Christians understood something very powerful.  They understood that when they gave sacrificially, they weren’t really losing anything.  Rather, they were gaining!  Remember the words of our Lord:

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

The early church really believed these words, and they acted on them in faith.  They really believed that by loving sacrificially, they were exchanging temporary and perishable things for a testimony which would echo into eternity.  The question is, “Do we really believe?”  Do we really believe that, like our verse says, “God is not unrighteous to forget [our] work and labour of love?” (Hebrews 6:10)  Or, does our refusal to love sacrificially expose a lack of true faith?  When it really comes down to it, this is about a choice between loving God and loving our own lives.  Jesus said, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16:25)  There are all kinds of people talking about love in this world, but how few ever live it?  This is what the Christian life is all about.  This is the reality of it.  Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, and so we, in love for Him, die to ourselves in love for one another.

We need to honestly reflect on our own hearts.  Have we been withholding love from others because we are trying to hold on to our own life?  Are we acting as if loving sacrificially would be a loss?  Are we acting as if God would forget the love we have shown toward His name?  Let us encourage our hearts even now, for we know that God is not unrighteous to forget our sacrifices of love; and we can be certain that “there is a reward for the righteous” (Psalms 58:11).  Let us ask ourselves how God might use us to meet a need in the church.  What sacrifice of love can we make unto the Lord?  It could be our time, our service in a ministry, our financial support, or our prayers.  Let us, like our Lord, take the place of servants to His body, the church.

© 2018 Thomas B Bluemling All Rights Reserved

Thomas Bluemling

“But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Hebrews 1:8-9)

Our continuing quest to comprehend something of love has brought us to the beloved book of Hebrews.  This letter is written to testify of the superiority of the new covenant over the old.  In this first chapter, the writer’s goal is to show how Jesus is superior to angels.  As part of this section, the writer quotes from the psalms, reminding his readers that no angel was ever spoken to as the Father spoke to the Son.  As today’s verses remind us, the Father has given Jesus an everlasting kingdom (Matthew 4:17).  He is shown to be worthy of power and glory forever because of His perfect righteousness (see also Matthew 6:13).  In our verses, the writer of Hebrews quotes from the forty-fifth psalm which describes the Son’s love for righteousness and hatred of wickedness:

“Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Psalms 45:6-7)

As these verses show, the Father delights in the Son because of the Son’s delight in righteousness.  Jesus alone lived a life which was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” (Hebrews 7:26)  The Bible says that He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)  Because of His perfect righteousness, even when He gave Himself as an offering for sin, it was impossible for death to hold Him (Acts 2:24); and after three days in the tomb, He rose from the dead, and, “having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:15)  The principalities and powers, the demonic forces of Satan, did not perceive that Jesus would conquer them by willingly going into death, “for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:8)  They had no idea that Christ was going to use death itself to defeat Satan; as it is written, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14)  By His death and resurrection, Jesus completely disarmed and defeated the devil.  In the book of Revelation, Jesus says, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” (Revelation 1:18)  Now that He has conquered death on behalf of His people, He has the authority and power to give them His kingdom!  This eternal kingdom is a reflection of its eternal King, for it is a kingdom of “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy [Spirit].” (Romans 14:17)  Notice that this kingdom is in the Holy Spirit.  We should not think of it as an earthly kingdom, but as a spiritual one.  Jesus explained this saying, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

Wherever there is true righteousness within a heart, the kingdom of heaven is there (Romans 5:21).  This kingdom is not given to everyone, but only to those who seek it.  Jesus said, “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:31).  In other words, seek to make King Jesus the ruler of your heart, the governor of your thoughts, words, and actions.  Being in this kingdom is not knowing about Jesus, or knowing about the Bible.  It is much more than knowledge.  The Scripture says, “the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” (1 Corinthians 4:20)  When the kingdom of heaven is within a heart, the reigning power of sin is broken, and faith works by love unto righteousness and holiness!  Just as Jesus loves righteousness and hates iniquity, so do all of the subjects of His kingdom.  This kingdom is called “the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him;” (James 2:5) and the Scripture commands us saying, “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil.” (Psalms 97:10)  Thus, it is a kingdom given to all who love Jesus in truth, who love righteousness and hate evil.  Loving what Jesus loves and hating what He hates is the greatest evidence that His kingdom is truly reigning in our hearts.

Wherever there is true peace within a heart, the kingdom of heaven is there.  The Bible says, “The LORD will give strength unto his people; the LORD will bless his people with peace.” (Psalms 29:11)  Remember the words of Jesus who said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)  Any lack of peace which we have is a failure to remember how much God loves us.  Jesus said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  What did Jesus say so that we might have peace? Before He said this, He had been expressing to His disciples how God loved them saying, “For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.” (John 16:27).  Our peace is rooted in the understanding that God is our loving Father.  Our peace only surpasses all understanding because we know that God’s love surpasses all understanding.  The Bible says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18).  Love casts out all cares and worries, which are types of fear, and which are based in a lack of faith in God.  Therefore, “put on [love], which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” (Colossians 3:14-15)  When the peace of God is ruling in our hearts, we can be sure that the kingdom of heaven is within us!

Wherever there is true joy within a heart, the kingdom of heaven is there.  Notice those marvelous words, “God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Hebrews 1:8-9)  The Greek word translated to “gladness” means exceeding joy!  The Bible says that in His presence, there is fullness of joy (Psalms 16:11); and “the joy of the LORD is [our] strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)  The more that we press into the kingdom by faith, the more our hearts will be filled with joy in our Lord.  In his letter to the Philippians, which is filled with joy, Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)

When we consider our King, and when we consider His kingdom, how can we not desire to seek Him above all else?  He is called “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)  He is clothed with majesty and strength, His garment white as snow, His hair white like pure wool, His eyes as a flame of fire, His feet like fine brass, His voice as the sound of many waters (Psalms 93:1, Daniel 7:9, Revelation 1:14-15).  He is the “KING OF KINGS, AND Lord OF Lords.” (Revelation 19:16)  He is enthroned on high, “Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion.” (Ephesians 1:21)  Justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne—the throne of His holiness, the throne of His glory, the throne of His grace, the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, the throne of David, a throne which shall endure as the days of heaven (Psalms 47:8, 89:14, 29, 103:19, Isaiah 9:6-7, Matthew 19:28, Hebrews 4:16, 8:1).  His “dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)  It “shall break in pieces and consume all [the kingdoms of the earth], and it shall stand for ever.” (Daniel 2:44)  He is “Jesus Christ the righteous;” (1 John 2:1) the “name which is above every name!” (Philippians 2:9)

How can we not love King Jesus with all of our hearts?  How can we not seek His kingdom?  How can we not desire for Him to reign in our hearts?  There is only one thing that can prevent us from fully surrendering all to His Lordship; the deceitfulness of sin.  Who in their right mind would ever give up an eternal kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy?—especially to remain in a kingdom of darkness and spiritual death which leads to eternal punishment!  No one presented with a clear choice would ever decline the King of glory!  Yet, because of the deceitfulness of sin, countless multitudes choose to let sin reign in their hearts unto their own destruction.  As the Scripture says, “this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)  Either we will love righteousness, hate iniquity, and reign with Jesus, or we will love iniquity, hate righteousness, and die with the devil.  Jesus is the King over all heaven and earth, and “he must reign” (1 Corinthians 15:25).  Anything short of complete surrender to Him is utter folly, for it is the love of unrighteousness; it is to embrace sin and death; it is to despise all that is good and glorious!  May we ascribe to King Jesus the glory that is due His Name, and seek His kingdom above all.  May we, like our King, love righteousness and hate iniquity, that we may abide with Him forever!

© 2018 Thomas B Bluemling All Rights Reserved

Thomas Bluemling

“For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.” (Philemon 1:7)

Paul’s letter to Philemon may only be twenty-five verses long, but it blossoms with colorful truths which delight the soul.  In this letter, Paul is writing to Philemon concerning a former bondservant named Onesimus, who had run away from his master to Rome.  Apparently, when Onesimus had come to Rome, he came across the apostle Paul and was converted.  Now, Paul had urged Onesimus to be reconciled to his master, but wanted to send a letter ahead in order to make Philemon aware of what had occurred and to encourage him to meet Onesimus with forgiveness.  Paul begins his letter by greeting Philemon and the other brethren with him, and proceeds to describe his prayers and thanksgiving for how God had been using Philemon among the saints:

“I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.” (Philemon 1:4-6)

Even while in prison, Paul was hearing word about Philemon’s faith and love, and was giving thanks to the Lord for filling Philemon with these wonderful fruits.  Philemon’s love was genuine, for it was love “toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints” (Philemon 1:5).  True love has the Lord as its primary object, and the saints are loved as unto the Lord.  There is no such thing as a true love for the saints which is disconnected from a true love for Jesus, for the two must be one love toward Jesus.  Philemon’s love was not only a love primarily toward the Lord, but also an impartial love, for it was a love toward all the saints.  Such a love was not ultimately of Philemon, but of God; and Paul recognized this by thanking the Lord for what He was working through Philemon.  Notice the magnificent joy which Paul and his companions experienced when they heard of Philemon’s love:

“For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.” (Philemon 1:7)

Why was Paul so filled with joy and comfort at the hearing of Philemon’s faith and love?  Because “the bowels [or affections] of the saints [were] refreshed by [him].” (Philemon 1:7)  In this we see the heart of the apostle Paul, a heart that fervently desired the best for other saints, a heart which rejoiced at the report of fruitful Christians.  There is no hint of ministerial envy in Paul’s words, for he was not driven by selfish ambition, but only selfless love for the church.  In his second letter to Corinth, Paul described his great concern for the churches as something which came upon him daily (2 Corinthians 11:28).  He grieved in prayer when reports came of fruitlessness or apostasy, but he rejoiced when reports came of fruitfulness in faith and love.  He was entirely consumed with a heart for Christ’s bride.

Our verse demonstrates the amazing power of love to bring strength and joy to all around us near and far!  Just by loving the saints by faith, Philemon was refreshing the local church and also bringing great comfort and joy to an old imprisoned apostle a great distance away.  When true love is flowing from our hearts out into our lives, there is a ripple effect which occurs.  Only God knows the full impact that a single act of love can make on the world.  Consider for a moment, how we are reading about Philemon’s love even now, many centuries after his death; and even now, God is using his faithful love to impact our own hearts!  There is no way Philemon could have ever imagined how many people from all nations would read about him and his love.  Likewise, we have no idea how God will use our love!  Sometimes we can’t even see the immediate influence, let alone the influence that results all around us over great spans of time.

Philemon had a love which refreshed the affections of the saints.  Christians like Philemon are a great joy to have in a local body of believers.  Their love for the Lord becomes infectious, and demonstrates to others the wonderful blessings which accompany a life given wholly to Christ.  Simply by their example, they show others how to walk by faith in love.  To the saints, they are “the savour [or aroma] of life unto life.” (2 Corinthians 2:16)  Hearts are encouraged and comforted as the love of Christ is manifested through them.  When we consider Philemon’s powerful influence on other believers, are not our own hearts stirred?  Do we not desire to be such a blessing to our brothers and sisters in the Lord?  If this is our desire, we must, like Philemon, become a “fellowlabourer” (Philemon 1:1).  Philemon wasn’t only a hearer of the word, but a doer.  He was a man of action who took steps of faith according the word of God.  Even though he was most likely a wealthy man, for he had servants, he was not distracted by worldliness.  In fact, if he was indeed wealthy, the text may suggest that he refreshed the saints with his selfless generosity.  Whether Philemon’s great love was expressed by giving his possessions or by giving himself to the needs of others as a servant, the result was the same; the saints were refreshed.  If we are to be used by the Lord to refresh His beloved saints, we must, like Philemon be willing to labor in love for their benefit.  Refreshing love is selfless and sacrificial love—love which expresses itself in the likeness of Christ’s love for us at the cross.

Keeping in mind that the “bowels” are used to describe the affections, we might wonder why it is so important for our affections to be refreshed.  What are these affections which Paul is speaking of, and how do they relate to love?  It is important to make a distinction between these affections and regular human affections.  The affections which Paul is describing do not arise from our own flesh nature, but from the Spirit of God in us.  They are referred to in Scripture as “the bowels of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:8)  Thus, they are the Lord’s affections which work within us as we abide in Him and walk in the Spirit.  Moreover, these holy affections serve to evidence the presence of the love of God in our hearts:

“whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17)

When the Spirit of God fills us, we become filled with divine affections from the Spirit of Christ.  We begin to have compassion we never had, mercies we never could have offered, grieving and sorrow over sin which we were never before capable of experiencing.  These affections are glorious, and should be sought after more than precious gold, but they are only available to those who “have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” (Galatians 5:24)  The old unholy affections must be put to death before the new can be manifested in our hearts.  Thus, we are commanded to “put off the old man” (Colossians 3:9) and to “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.” (Colossians 3:12)  Not only do the affections of Christ transform us, but they also enable us to impact others in a way that strengthens the same affections in them.  Just as Philemon, those filled with the affections of Christ refresh the affections of others.  An example of this can be seen in the seventh chapter of Paul’s second letter to Corinth:

“Therefore we were comforted in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all. For if I have boasted any thing to him of you, I am not ashamed; but as we spake all things to you in truth, even so our boasting, which I made before Titus, is found a truth. And his inward affection is more abundant toward you, whilst he remembereth the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him.” (2 Corinthians 7:13-15)

Can you imagine what it is like to feel the very heart of God within you?—to long for what He longs for, to feel the compassion He feels, to have His affection for the saints, to feel His grieving over sin, and to be overtaken by His fierce hatred of evil?  These most holy affections are available to saints who put off the sinful flesh and unite themselves to the Lord as loving servants.  They are available to those who patiently wait upon the Lord in prayer, who seek His face, who desire above all else to remain in close communion with Him.  Do you honestly desire the affections of Christ?  Do you take the time to seek His face, crying out to Him to give You His heart for the lost, to give you His hatred of sin, to give You His love for the saints?  Are you hungry to be so united with Him in fellowship, that His affections become your affections?  Love will transform your heart, but only if you seek His face above all else; only if you crucify the flesh with all of its affections and lusts.

© 2018 Thomas B Bluemling All Rights Reserved

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