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The Greatest Love

November 29th, 2013

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13

Here is the supreme test of love – the willingness to sacrifice oneself for another.

This is Christ toward us – no question but that He was referring to Himself in this passage, as He was already on His way to the cross. the cross did not come upon Him without His awareness, rather throughout His ministry, and we assume from His earliest conscious days on earth, He was aware of its looming reality. Despite its horrible reality, however, there was joy in the cross for Him, as we read in Hebrews, “”Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Heb. 12:2). This joy that was before Christ was our salvation and redemption. His sacrifice was not a mindless, pointless death – there is no joy in one’s mistreatment as an aesthetic, no joy in the death of a young man as an exercise by itself – rather through His death He achieved our justification, as He became sin for us and died in our place. As a stand alone experience, Christ despised the cross, as any one should despise his mistreatment at the hands of others. But as a contribution to our salvation, Christ willingly and lovingly laid down His life for us.

That He placed this teaching in the midst of His teaching about the Vine and the branches – that the life of Him, the Vine, flows through us His followers, the branches – teaches us what our lives will consist of. He is also teaching us about ourselves in Him in these words. We are prone to be selfish, and if not selfish, at least self-centered. We close our eyes to the misfortunes of others, but are quick to moan and groan about any injustice that comes our way. We rarely weep for another, but pour buckets of tears for ourselves. But Christ teaches us that if He is flowing in us, then this must change within our hearts and in our actions. The life of Christ flowing in us through His Spirit will lead us toward this same level of sacrifice for others – the willingness to lay down our lives for them.

We will probably not be called on to be physically crucified for another, though some have been through history, and even till today some are martyred for their faith, and not just for their faith, but also for what they have chosen to love by the Spirit. It is not merely faith in Christ and in the resurrection that takes martyrs to their death – it is also love for the things and the people whom Christ loves.

Yet we are each called to “die daily” and to live in the resurrected love of Christ for this world. It is the willingness to put aside our personal “rights” or personal agendas for the good of another that marks the Christian as alive in Christ. The remarkable thing of this attitude and act is the fulfillment and joy it brings to our hearts – just as with Christ. There is joy set before us, and perhaps we do not appreciate the form that love is acted out in – injustice, sacrifice, and mistreatment are not pleasant and we should, as Christ did, despise the shame that is ever put upon us – but love does not dwell on the negative matters, rather it sets before it the object of its love.

Who are you loving for the sake of Christ? Where has His life flowing in you taken you to make sacrifices for others? Are you quick to complain? Oh, especially with those regularly around us, love will also lead us to help them treat us justly – if we love others we will also want that they also measure up to love’s standard, but the spirit of our actions, if they are inspired by Christ our Vine, is patient, kind, considerate.

John 14-17 ,

Enlightened by Gratitude

November 28th, 2013

What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his own soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

Matthew 16:26

In our sojourn through John 14-17 we have found the central teachings of Christ in regard to His Spirit and human life – the Spirit gives us life, and there are many reasons here to be thankful. But today I am stepping back and taking a view of God’s work within us from another teaching of Christ on the worth of the human soul.

Christ spoke of the “soul” as that aspect of human life that is in contrast to the body. In a typical Jewish way of speaking, He referred to the inner person, the immortal person, the person that does not die at the same time that the body dies, but that goes on into eternity – whether to heaven or to hell. Human society has made the body that relates to the material universe its focus, and in this is the desire to have more and more, to gain power, prestige, pleasures, and and wealth. In these words Christ affirmed that any life that is lived without the eternal part of the person becoming the most important part of the person is empty and vain.

So far as we know, no single human being has ever possessed all of the world’s wealth. But if one man could posses it all, and everyone else on the planet be impoverished, it would be of no personal profit to him if his soul was spiritually dead, out of contact with God, and unable to appreciate His love and His Fatherhood. And how would such a person even sleep at night, knowing that his wealth had come at the expense of everyone else’s poverty? If there was any humanity in him at all, he would immediately begin to give away some of his wealth to appease his sense of guilt, and there we instantly see where the real heart of human life is – not in the material, not in the body, but in the soul, in the innermost person. To have everything that is material or physical and nothing that is eternal and spiritual is no life at all.

Christ taught us that the center of our existence is our immortal soul, that goes on into eternity, and that is where He does His most profound work. There is no substitute for our soul, there is no other “you” or “me” that we can trade or purchase. God made us so that we might know Him, and only in faith in Him do we truly gain life. And His work in our hearts today is the most profound thing about our life, and this leads us to be grateful and gratitude releases join in our life.

In food the reason we like a bit of oil with food is that the oil enables us to taste the spices, and it enhances the flavor of everything else. No matter what wonderful spices are added to the food, if there is no oil whatsoever, we will not be able to taste the spices. The oil itself has no strong flavor, but it enables us to taste every other flavor and spice.

Gratitude is like this. It does not matter how much we have if we have no God to thank for any of it – it is all tasteless and empty. When the soul is awakened by Christ, when His Spirit brings life into our hearts, then we are able to enjoy everything else. John D. Rockefeller experienced a change in his life during is 50’s. He was the wealthiest man on earth, yet also practically one of the most miserable. But as a Christian God changed his heart and he began to consider how he could bless the world through his wealth. His soul became alive with life and he lived to be well into his 90’s, blessing others and helping make the world a better place.

I do not believe it is of a great concern to God whether or not we are wealthy, and though He delights to give good gifts to His children, and though a Spirit-filled Christian will have every tool available to him for his success in life, the greater concern of God is for the spiritual advancement of our soul. And only when our soul is right with Him are we able to truly enjoy the other. Rather than complaining about what you do not have, stop to thank God for the life He has given you. Thank Him for the work that He is doing in your heart, for the eternal salvation of your immortal soul, for the salvation that has come to you. You will enjoy life more in the process.

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