Jesus had a number conflicts with the religions leaders of His day, especially over the Sabbath laws. He couldn’t break through their religious legalism. Something that hangs on to this day in a number of Christian denominations. They complained about His healing on the Sabbath. He countered with the question of whether it was right to do good or to do evil on the Sabbath. The doing of good superseded strict adherence to the written code. He told them “if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”(Matthew 12:7) He was quoting from the Old Testament prophet Hosea which they should have well understood. We have many decisions to make concerning what is right or wrong in various situations. At time we are not 100% sure which is right, but I think Jesus is saying that it is better to err on the side of grace rather than on the law. That doesn’t mean that we can ignore God’s laws. Our Lord does give us a way of life that is for our best, but we grow into that best by small steps. Sometimes it means that we can let one issue go if it means helping a person grow a little closer to the Lord now. Parents know this well. Our kids are not always where we want them to be, but some battles are not worth fighting just now if we can help them grow little in a more important area. We are God’s kids, and we are all seeking to grow more fully in His grace.
In my thinking and thus in my teaching I work from a perspective of the perfect, the ideal, the best. That is, when I am thinking about marriage, for example, or even our general moral conduct, I see from Scripture how God created us and what He wants for our lives. I also clearly understand that we are not ideal people. We are sinful and living in a sin filled world. It is always necessary to meet people where they are. It is why Jesus spent so much time with the tax collectors and prostitutes. We need to meet people where they are, sharing as much love and grace as God give us the wisdom to do. But at the same time not forgetting the perfect. We are always seeking to move a step at a time toward God’s perfect will, and we rejoice with every forward step. We recognize that we are sinful, but the danger is lowering the standard rather than keeping our eyes on the goal, as St Paul says, “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 3:14) We won’t be perfect in this life, but we continue to look toward the beauty, joy and goodness of all our Lord has for us.
Yesterday I wrote about the Christmas event fitting us for heaven, and said that we should think eternally. Unfortunately, this opens up a lot of confused and conflicting ideas in people’s minds. Heaven means having to die first. People do everything possible to hold that off. Then there are false ideas about what heaven is – an eternal family reunion, an unending worship service, or wearing a white robe and having wings. Yes, these are a bit of comic book imagery, but not unlike many people’s ideas of heaven. They are not all that appealing. But think about what Jesus offered His disciple when He called them. They were to walk in close fellowship with One who loved them, and worked to bring out the best in their lives. They would be continually growing in understanding many of the deep questions of creation and life. They would have challenges that would stretch them personally, giving them many satisfying accomplishments. All of this continues in the sinless realm of heaven. Now we only see through a glass dimly. Paul says further that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”(I Corinthians 2:9) Our times are in God’s hands. We will enter His Kingdom when He is ready for us, but it is important to think about heaven in the right terms. For a Christian, we are walking with and growing in Christ now, and that will never end.
When someone is writing a paper, it usually starts with a draft copy, and then get edited and refined. Language is clarified, and phrases are sharpened to better express what the writer wants to convey. It is that same refining and clarifying process that our Lord is doing in each of us. We are God’s creation. He made us, and called us to be a part of Him through Christ Jesus. Throughout our life He works to mold us into His image. The difference between us and a manuscript is that we can resist the Refiner’s hand. Yet, in His patience and persistence, He continues to work in our life, and has given us the promise that He will not stop until we are complete. This is an ongoing and daily process. Let’s look with anticipation at how our Lord will work in us today.
Paul wrote about the Kingdom of God and His purpose for man, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror…”(ICorinthians 13:12) There are so many things in life we don’t understand, that don’t make sense. We have a lot of “why” questions. But the very fact that we only see things as a poor reflection points to the purpose for our life on earth. We are here to learn to know God, and to grow in our walk of faith. Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.”(John 20:29) From the very first command in the Garden not to eat of the tree in the center of the Garden, man has had to learn to trust that God is wiser than he is, and knows what He is doing. We failed that first test, but all of Scripture testifies to the truth of a God of love who is seeking the best for all His creation. In spite of our dim view, and our “why” question, we can grow in faith, trusting ourselves into the hands of our Lord who has given Himself for us.
As children grow we give them more and more responsibility. We expect them to grow in maturity and be able to make adult decisions for themselves. This is as it should be, but unfortunately this has not gotten translated over to life in the church. Paul addressed this with the Corinthian church saying, “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.” (IC.3:1-2) As did the writer to the Hebrews saying, “…you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!”(5:11-12) Tragically, conditions in today’s church are the same, if not worse. I don’t question our salvation. We have that by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, but beyond that, we are divided into thousands of groups with little understanding of basic truths of the Lord’s life, work, and purpose among us. I certainly don’t have all the truth, but it is another reason for me to be earnest in prayer, humbly crying out for the Lord’s return. Only in His gracious presence will we grow to maturity.
Resolutions anyone? Many jokes are made about New Year’s resolutions that start out with great resolve only to be discarded within a few days. It strikes me, however, that we all live under a number of resolutions that have been made a long time ago. If we are married, there is the resolution to “love and to cherish till death us do part.” If we have friends, there is a resolution to be honest and faithful and not betray a friend. We have resolutions as citizens, as tax payers, and as debtors. As Christians we certainly have a resolution “to press on toward the goal …. the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil.3:14) So, today is not really a time to make new resolution, but rather to commit ourselves to do our best with the resolutions we have already made. In faithfulness to those resolution we bring honor to God and to others. And we don’t have to feel guilty about the New Year’s resolution that get lost by the wayside. May this be a blessed year for each of you, and may it be a year of your growing ever closer in faith and love to the Lord Jesus Christ.
We enjoy watching our children and grandchildren grow. We expect them to progress, being able to do more at 4 years than they did at 2. They slowly develop into their own personality, showing their abilities, and growing to maturity. Growth is a characteristic of human life, and it doesn’t stop at 16 or 18. It is said of Jesus that He grew in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” That growth, that progress, has no age limit. You and I, however old, are to continue growing in wisdom and maturity. Through continual pray, study, especially of God’s Word, and through our involvement in the lives of others, God continues to mold our character, giving depth to our lives. We have a lot of technological progress in our world, but this progress in growing in the depth of our Lord’s life, and the wisdom He gives, is the only progress that really matters. This is real growth, and the kind that is useful in our world now, and for our Lord in eternity.
It is strange how things break into our life at times. We go along in our routine, then all of a sudden something unusual pops up. We generally think it will be bad news, but not always. An unexpected person or situation will come along needing our time and attention. Often, our Lord is presenting us with an opportunity, testing our judgment, asking us to use wisdom, moving us out of our comfort zone, looking for courage, or maybe all of these. It is easy to function in the routine of life. I am certainly one who is happy with this. But it is the unexpected that presents us with opportunities for ministry and growth. The Lord has His ways of opening our eyes and stretching our hearts. It is in these times that we can come closer to Him and bring honor to His name.
Scripture uses a lot of different images to convey God’s truth, especially agrarian ones. Paul writes in Galatians, “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”(6:8) Like this, Jesus told the parable about two kinds of seed being sown in a field, good seed, and weeds. (Matthew 13:24f) We have our salvation by the pure grace of God through our faith in Jesus Christ, but our growth comes by sowing good seed. That seed is God’s Word, and our hunger for a deeper understanding of who our gracious God is. And like our need to eat regularly, so we have the real need to be fed spiritually every day. Scripture, prayer, and worship are our daily food. We use a variety of images, but the same truth remains. As we sow to the Spirit we reap eternal life.